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High school students win big with original research


Five high school students from Fairbanks’ West Valley High School took top honors at a regional competition for original scientific research. Students won more than $12,000 in scholarships and cash prizes and will advance to a national competition in San Diego, California, to compete for scholarships up to $12,000.

The winners of the 32nd Alaska Statewide High School Science Symposium, March 25-26, are Piper Brase (first), Thomas DeLong (second), Van Levey (third), Nicholas Alexeev (fourth) and Sydney Cox (fifth).

“I was really surprised when they announced that I won," said Brase. "I can't wait to go present in San Diego and share my lamprey research with the Lower 48.”

The University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Natural Science and Mathematics hosts the symposium with co-directors Abel Bult-Ito, a neurobiology professor, and Denise Kind, supervisor of the biology and wildlife laboratory.

The wins qualify the students to compete with more than 200 high school students across the nation at the 55th Junior Science and Humanities Symposia Program, April 26-30. The research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense sponsors the national competition, which aims to interest students in careers related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Twenty-eight students competed in this year’s ASHSSS, which has been compared to an advanced science fair on par with undergraduate research. Students develop a hypothesis and test it under the guidance of a volunteer mentor in the STEM field. They write a research paper on their findings and present results at the symposium to their peers, teachers and volunteer judges.

“The students' research projects ranged from studies on human behavior, feeding behavior of lamprey, computer modeling of water erosion and design of trusses using genetics algorithms, to leaf selection by aspen leaf miners and nitrogen distribution within Glacier Bay National Park, and many of these projects were at college level,” said Bult-Ito.

West Valley High School science teachers Cyndie Beale and Greg Kahoe have participated in the ASHSSS over the last two decades, integrating the competition into their Advanced Placement science classes.

“It gets students doing real science on topics that interest them,” Beale said. “It’s a lot of work, but it helps students develop skills that they will use throughout their life, like how to research, analyze and present on a subject.”

The Alaska symposium is open to high school students across the state, although all entries this year came from West Valley High School.

“We would love to include more students from across the state," Bult-Ito said. "Dr. Kind and I are willing to visit students and their teachers to help them develop their projects and identify potential mentors.”


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